More Macs

Adam decided his Mac Mini was just gathering dust in his room, so I bought it from him.
I’m gonna hook it to my projector and use it with my wireless keyboard and mouse.
Dunno if I’ll use it much either, but it can’t hurt to have a lil computer in the living room.

Now I can check IMDB and Wikipedia without leaving the couch…

Surround Sound and the Mac Pro

So I made a discovery about the Mac Pro (and Macs in general) – they do not support the 3 mini-jack surround system that 90% of Windows and Linux machines use. Instead, they will only output surround sound through an optical port.

I looked at my options, listed here in order of expensive-ness.

Option 1:
Give up on surround sound, either use current surround system in stereo mode, or get new 2.1 channel system.

Option 2:
Get Griffin FireWave, which will output 3-mini-jack surround via firewire. Downside? No windows drivers, so if I booted into windows, I wouldn’t have sound. One of the main reasons I want surround sound is for windows games.

Option 3:
Use optical to 3-mini-jack converter box. Not a bad option, Creative makes one, but it’s discontinued and I didn’t have any luck finding it.

Option 4:
Get a new surround sound system that has optical support.

I ended up going with option 4, and got a Logitech Z-5500 system for $250 (yowtch).

It arrived yesterday, and I was unprepared as to how massive it is. Everything is literally twice the size of my old surround sound system. Physically, and power-wise. The subwoofer is the size of a Volkswagon.

I managed to untangle the old surround sound and set it aside, and somehow managed to squeeze the new speakers into the same places. Except the subwoofer. It came with a warning to keep it far away from your computer, so I moved the Mac to the other side of my desk, and put the subwoofer on the bottom of my wire shelf. It *just* fit.

(click the image for more details)

Finally having it set up, I noticed a few things:

1. You have no control over output when using optical out (a digital signal) – this means the mac outputs at a fixed level, and you can *only* control the volume using the surround sound’s volume knob. This means the volume + and – on the keyboard no longer work. Adjusting output levels in individual apps does still have an effect, I wish I could map those keys on the keyboard to iTunes volume + and -, but haven’t found a way to do that yet.

2. In windows, the Mac internal speaker is on all the time. To silence it, you have to go into the volume control panel and turn the Master Volume all the way down. Now sound will just come out of the surround sound system.

Aside from the price, the physical size, and those couple quibbles, I’m happy with it – it sounds great (though I only use a fraction of the volume available).

One thing happened that lessened my fretting about having spent too much on speakers.

When setting up the speakers, I moved my old subwoofer, and noticed a pile of rolled coins and a bowl of coins under my desk that I’d sorta forgotten about. Every day I take the spare change in my pocket and toss it in the bowl, and every now and then I’d roll them up with a coin sorter. Over time, a small pile of rolled coins had built up. I hadn’t rolled any in several months, a thick layer of dust and cat hair covered the pile.

I dusted it off, and took a half-hour and rolled the loose coins. At first I used the coin sorter, but it kept jamming, so I did it by hand instead.

Humans are really good at pattern recognition. I dumped the coins a couple handfuls at a time into a pile on the floor. First I grabbed all the quarters, as quickly as I could. I was impressed how little of a quarter had to be showing out from beneath other coins for me to find it. Finding a quarter and grabbing it was seemingly faster than conscious thought, my brain was doing all sorts of size, color and weight analysis without my having to think about it. After the quarters, I did the dimes, then the nickels, then the pennies. I also found a couple John Adams dollar coins in there. John Adams has a dollar coin now? Who knew?

When all the coins were rolled, I counted it up. $354.00 (not counting the two John Adams dollar coins, a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, and two bicentennial quarters that I set aside to keep). Wow. It paid for the new surround sound, and then some!

Addendum: By toggling the Feature Key/Function Key setting in the keyboard control panel, I reassigned F1-F3 to exposé, F4 to dashboard, and in CoverSutra assigned F7-F9 to Previous/Pause/Next, and F10-F12 to Mute/Vol -/Vol +. So now those keys control the volume in iTunes instead of trying to control global volume, which doesn’t work with optical out.

iPhoto Flaws

Apple’s iPhoto is a decent program for managing your photos.

Not fantastic, not terrible, but adequate.

There are a few glaring omissions, things that seem like basic features that are missing from iPhoto.

No MD5 tracking
This sounds complicated, but MD5 is a common method for “fingerprinting” a file. Comparing MD5 fingerprints can tell you if a file is a duplicate. iPhoto does some sort of basic comparison to prevent duplicates, but it fails so often it must be only looking at the filename or timestamp or something. It’s badly flawed, and essentially broken.
This means if you bring in a lot of photos you have built up, you will probably have tons of duplicates in there. There are third-party solutions for this, but nothing built in to iPhoto.

No way to merge Libraries
iPhoto stores all the images in a “Library” – which is essentially a directory structure with some XML data. But for some reason, iPhoto has no way to merge libraries. So if you had iPhoto on one computer, and then got a new computer with iPhoto, you can’t just combine the old Library into the new one. You can choose to view one Library or the other by holding down the option key when you start iPhoto, but you can’t combine them. Sure, there are hacks and third-party apps, but that just accentuates the basic flaw: when choosing “import”, iPhoto doesn’t recognize its own file format (the Library).

No auto-rotation of photos
Most modern digital cameras have a sensor to detect the orientation of the camera when the photo is taken. So if you tilt the camera sideways to get a vertical shot, the image is tagged in the metadata as being rotated. Yet iPhoto ignores this, meaning you have to manually go through all your photos and rotate them. Lame! The metadata is there, use it!

A couple of these things (duplicate detection and auto-rotation) seem to *sometimes* kick in (perhaps when you import from a camera, but not when you import from a HD?), but not with any reliability.

Honorable mention:

No Quicktime Quicklook
You can use space to view a photo in iPhoto, but to view a quicktime in iPhoto, you have to double-click it.

Dream: Convicts and Circuses

I had an interesting dream last night, I don’t remember it all, but here is what I recall:

There was a first half of a dream that I don’t remember, but I found myself driving somewhere (to work?) in a hurry. As I was driving to the on-ramp to the highway, I was speeding, and a cop passed me going the other direction, and turned on his lights as he did so.

I knew he was going to turn around and pull me over either on the on-ramp or on the highway. Luckily, there was a side road midway up the on-ramp that led to a rest area.

The rest area had a big parking lot, with a few cars, and a squat two-story concrete visitor’s center. I parked my car in-between two other cars to hide it a little, and walked over the building.

It was somewhat dark inside, and had a musty smell, slightly damp and earthy, like a basement.

I went inside, and as my eyes adjusted to the light, I could see a cafeteria. There were some people there, but they were glancing around nervously, I could tell something was wrong. I went up the cement steps to the second floor, where the bathrooms were. As I got to the top of the stairs, I found myself ankle-deep in water. It was even darker up here, the fluorescents were only flickering dimly and intermittently. I slogged towards the bathroom, but it was hopeless. That is where all the water was coming from, I could see the outlines of toilets and urinals, it looked like someone or something had smashed them.

I went back downstairs, where the floor was damp, but not several inches of water like the upstairs.

I looked at the menu above the registers, trying to decide what to order. Suddenly, the workers yelled “get him!” and someone grabbed me from behind.

The brought me outside, in an area between the concrete building and a chain-link fence.

They were a group of escaped prisoners. I knew they would kill me if they knew I was from Massachusetts. The leader strode up to me and held out his hand. “Give me your wallet,” he demanded.

“I’ll give you the cash,” I replied, “I have, let’s see, $60 here. The ID and cards are worthless to you, so let me keep those.”

He gestures at the wallet with his huge meaty hand. “Give it here. The whole thing.”

I hand him the wallet, he pulls the cash out an holds up my driver’s license to look. He is showing off to his cohorts by only glancing quickly but remembering the whole address. I blanch, knowing I was a dead man if he saw I lived in MA.

“51 Bolling Drive,” he says, “Bangor, Maine. Now I know where you live.”

I realize with relief he has read it wrong, he read my old address instead of my current one.

He tosses the wallet back to me.

I explain I am originally from Maine, lived in Massachusetts for a little while, and now live in Bangor. I tell them I was headed to meet up with friends, to go to the circus. I am bluffing, but have two circus ticket in my pocket.

“Why don’t you call them?” they ask. I am about to say I left my cellphone in the car, but if I tell them that, they will want to go to my car, and they will see my Mass plates. I am figuring out what to say, when one of them sniffs. “Missing the circus, that’s terrible.”

I knew then that they wouldn’t hurt me, they were no longer a threat.

“Well, I used to be a clown,” said one, producing a small bicycle.

They strung up a tightrope between some lamp-posts and began doing various tricks.

“If you can’t make it to the circus,” the leader beamed, speaking with a deep, rumbling voice, “then the circus will come to you!”

They set up a circus tent, and put on several circus acts.

Then I woke up.

The Self-Improvement of Salvatore Ross

Things have been going well, lately I’ve been strangely focused and *gasp* doing things I set out to do.
The year’s only just begun, and here’s what I’ve accomplished so far:

* Lowered my sugar intake to under 50g per day
* Eliminated caffeine from my diet
* Stopped using “snooze” on my alarm
* Changed the time I get up from 8:00am to 6:30am
* Going to yoga class once a week
* Going to the gym for an hour every other day
* Scanning and filing paper as it arrives
* Registered with national junk mail blocking
* Consolidated two computers down to one (ok, I’m still working on this one, but I’ll be done this weekend)
* Replaced my cellphone with one that is reliable (my Razr had bad battery life and a habit of turning itself off)
* Scanned hundreds of slides for my mom (though I still need to mail her the CD)

What’s next?


* Scan bazillions of photos, slides and negatives from Papa’s house
* Sort/scan/toss 10+ years of paper (I have boxes and boxes just full of paper)
* General cleanup, give away or sell stuff I don’t need
* Produce at least one creative project a week
* Learn to play keyboard
* Learn to program Cocoa (and possibly iPhone when SDK comes out)
* Fix the damn MAME machine
And many more…

Dazed, Drugged, and in Pain

That’s pretty much how Trouble exited the vet’s tonight.

Early this morning, I dropped her off, signed a consent form saying “if you happen to kill my cat while sedating her, I understand, these things happen”, and was off to work.

They said they’d call me if they had accidentally done something horrible to her, but said “it’s pretty rare, don’t expect a call,” and told me to call at 2pm to find out how things went, and when to pick her up.

I called, they said it went ok, and to pick her up later in the day. I left work early and picked her up around 4:30. “Trouble didn’t give us any trouble!” beamed the assistant.

They offered me a mini dixie cup filled with the remains of the teeth they had to pull, five in all. I peer into the cup at some bits of white and brown, mostly unidentifiable chunks of brown, which I am told were once roots, teeth that had broken off in the past but stayed on as broken roots. I decline the offer to take the cup home with me. The vet holds the cup over the trash, and pauses. “Throw them out?” he asks. I consider an intricate plan of reconstructing the broken remains, making casts, and having kitty false teeth manufactured, either in some third world factory where they will do anything for a modest sum, or in the gleaming white rooms of an American niche lab devoted to feline dentistry. I snap out of my reverie. “Yeah,” I say, “toss ’em.”

I pay the bill and drive home with Trouble in the carrier in the passenger seat. She is meowing, but much quieter than her yelling this morning. Her soft cries now sounded more like sobbing. I assure her that we are nearly home, while on NPR the Hillary and Obama camps each claim to have netted more delegates than the other on Super Tuesday.

We get home and I let Trouble out of the cat carrier, onto the cold basement floor. She walks out of the carrier with a funny diagonal gait, and thumps into a workbench leg. It obvious she’s still pretty drugged and out of it. She’s also stopped meowing, I think it causes her too much pain. Her walking is the same zigzag path of the guy who’s been downing vodka all night but insists he’s fine, even though it’s plain he isn’t.

The vet explicitly mentioned “no stairs for the first day,” which if you’re familiar with my house, is a bit of an issue. Trouble stays in the basement while I’m at work, and when I’m home and awake, I unlock a cat door on the basement door, giving her access to both the upstairs and basement at will. For now, I’ll leave the door locked, and carry her down the stairs when she wants to go down. I watched her go up the stairs ok, but with how wobbly she is, I don’t know if she could make it down without falling.

Upstairs, I give her a small bowl of water. I took away her food at water at 9pm last night as instructed, and I’m not sure if she had any at the vet’s. So she’s probably gone almost a full day without water. She takes a tentative lick at the water, but apparently that’s too painful, she abandons the dish and wobbles down the hall. Her tail is droopy and she is walking low, keeping her center of gravity low so she is less likely to tip over. I look at her face. She isn’t about to open her mouth to meow, let alone show me her teeth, but I notice the fur around her eyes is wet from crying.

Hopefully by tomorrow the drugs will have worn off and she’ll be fully mobile again. I just gave her a dish with a little moist cat food on it, she licked the gravy up but didn’t try to eat the diced meat. Probably be a while before she’s back on dry food again.

sad Trouble

On cats and Eyedroppers

I’m taking Trouble to the vet tomorrow to get her teeth cleaned.

Leading up to that, I’m supposed to give her an eyedropper full of antibiotics twice a day for three days.

The first time, I got most of it in her mouth by catching her by surprise.
The second time, I caught her waking up, and got it in her mouth before she was fully awake.

The third time, she was wise to what I was up to. I wrestled her so she couldn’t move, but she *would not* open her mouth. It was like a scene from the exorcist, me over her with the eyedropper, saying “the power of antibiotics compels you!” while she spun her head around wildly.
I only managed to get half of it into her mouth, and called it enough of a win.

The fourth time, I figured “why not try it in her food?”
I was afraid she wouldn’t eat it, but mixed it in with a little moist catfood, and nom nom nom, she ate it all.

Easy. I’m supposed to take away her food tonight, I’ll give her the last dose in a small amount of moist catfood, and then take away her food and water.

Then I bring her in to the vet at 8am tomorrow, and pick her up later in the day.

Dream: Strange Invasion

I had an odd dream last night.

It begins with me reading a new Stephen King book. Or maybe I am watching a movie version. It starts off with a giant alien craft, shaped a lot like a foot, crunching down on a large house in a secluded area.

I am complaining about how bad the book/movie is, and after a bit, find myself inside it.

The aliens are symbiant/parasite type creatures, that latch onto human hosts to function. There are two types, which are the two sexes of that race. There is the eye, and the hand. The eye latches onto the top of someone’s head, and controls them by influencing their thoughts. The hand latches onto someone’s lower back, and controls someone by influencing their desires.

They both start out small, and only mature once attached to a human host. They are invisible to humans most of the time, only if they are weakened or if a human knows exactly what to look for and concentrates hard can they be seen. They look cheap, like low-budget monster effects. When fully mature, the hand looks like a rubber monster glove, and the eye looks like one of those plastic eye toys, where the eye is inside a clear water-filled ball. The eye is mounted on a tin-can like base, and has a small mouth with teeth that look suspiciously like pennies and dimes.

I am with my family, we find out about the aliens, so we are on the run from them. We are some of the first to encounter them, but manage to get away without being infected. We end up in an abandoned school, where we discover a nursery-like room where hand-seeds are being incubated. We think the eye troops are just outside, so we call them up (somehow we got their cell number) and tell them that we will leave the hands unharmed if they let us go.

The eyes agree, and after a while arrive at the school. It is then that we realize that the eyes hadn’t been about to catch us, we had lost them. Moreover, the eyes had gotten separated from the hands, and we had led them right to them! The eyes have brought captive humans with them for the hands to infect. We remain hidden while we watch what’s going on. When a hand infects a person, it is just a small lump, gradually the fingers grow out of the lump until the hand is fully formed. We are only able to see this because they have let their guard down, so they are visible.

It takes a day for the hands to mature, then the hands and eyes have an orgy. Or rather, the alien equivalent. The way they mate is via piggyback, literally, the human host with the eye hops on the back of the human host with the hand, and they run around yelling for a while. There is nothing resembling human sex that happens.
We didn’t stick around to find out how they give birth, we took the opportunity to scramble away.

We separate, and agree to meet back at our house. Moses and I get back there, and meet our mother (who is not Judy), but our father (who is not Neil) doesn’t make it back to the house. We don’t know what happened.

We relax, since we are safe for now. Our house is Judy’s house in Freedom, but at the same time is an apartment, on the 6th floor of a tall apartment building.

Moses and I are packing, jamming all we can into dufflebags. I notice that our mother is acting strangely. She opens the fridge, and we see it is stuffed with all sorts of fish. She begins offering us different fish to eat.
“I don’t want fish,” I protest.
She pulls out a pale white fish. “This is a hunger fish,” she says, “it’s not really a fish at all.”
“If it’s not a fish,” I ask, “then why does it have the word ‘fish’ in its name?”

We all stop and laugh.

Then our mother pulls out a gun. “You are onto us, aren’t you?” she asks menacingly.
Moses looks back and forth between the two of us, confused.
“Yes,” I say, “you’re infected with an eye.”

Moses makes a sound as if to speak, our mother turns towards him. I kick the gun out of her hand, grab it, and point it at her. “Come on,” she says with a smile, “you wouldn’t shoot your own mother…”

I fire the gun, aiming at a spot just above her head, where the invisible eye should be. Hit with the bullet, it becomes visible and falls dead to the ground with a splat. Our mother faints.

When she falls to the floor, some small items fall out of her coat. They are unattached eyes. They look at me in fear. One by one, I put the gun to them and fire straight down, bursting the eye. They are all dead.

I hear screams. Moses says “someone must have heard all the gunshots, and called the police!”

I realize he is only partly right. What must have happened, I realize darkly, is that the bullets went through the floor into the apartment below, and killed a young boy who was playing.

I contemplate the value of letting the boy stay dead, if his sacrifice was worth it in a war against aliens.

I decide I would be too tortured by the act in the future, that ultimately it would overcome me, make me careless and take risks that would be my undoing.

So I rewind, go back to the point where my mother falls to the floor. Instead of shooting the eyes, I get a hammer and smash them. They shatter like plastic eyes, not like human ones.

As I rise, Moses says “someone probably heard that gunshot and called the cops!”

I nod, and we sneak down the fire escape. I realize my duffle bags weren’t enough to hold all my video games, I will have to come back at some point to get the rest.

Once we reach the ground, we get in a car and start driving away, to formulate a plan of attack. People have started to realize something is wrong, the streets are chaotic with panicked drivers.

Finally we clear the city and are on the largely empty roads.

Then I woke up.

Time Travel Dream

Dream last night:

I am a boy, about 10. My sister and I live with our father, who is a reclusive millionaire mogul. He has discovered plans in a catalog for a number of strange devices. The first one we build is a mass driver (aka railgun) but is weak. You put a dime in the slot in the top, and it fires it out, but weakly. My sister and I fire it at each other, the dimes bouncing harmlessly off and clattering on the floor.

The next device is a time machine. I’m not sure what year it is, 1870 or 1970 maybe, but our father wants to travel forward to the exotic year of 1984. He builds it one night and leaves us, travelling forward in time.

We gather some friends, a few of whom are japanese and work in a nearby japanese restaurant. We activate the machine and jump forward in time.

1984 is strange and bleak, it seems like an economic depression has hit. We manage to locate our father, who is living in a shack. He doesn’t like it here, he wants to keep travelling forward, but the government has taken his time-travel device. He explains that we will have to help him break into the government facility to get it back.

So we head out, the poor millionaire tycoon and the rag-tag group of kids and early teens. We find the compound, there are machine gun nests and searchlights, like a prison, but we manage to get through the chain-link fence and inside the compound.

Inside the fence, it is a yard filled with RVs and other types of mobile homes. They are old and rusted, and parked haphazardly. Some are up on blocks, some rest on flat tires. We begin quietly searching them.

The eldest japanese kid finds the device and brings it to a central area, shielded from searchlights on all sides by RVs. We all gather round.

Our father says “well, I’m headed forward, are you coming with me?”
We shake our heads no. We want to go backward, back home.
“Ok, then,” he says, “I’m off.”
He is about to activate the device, but I stop him. “Wait,” I say, “we are heading back to the past. Can you give us any tips for the future?”

He pauses a moment in thought.

“When you get back to your mother,” he says, “there will be a huge blizzard. But actually, there will be no snow accumulation.”

The device is warmed up, and is starting to hum and buzz, louder and louder.

He steps toward it, and as he is about to go, he yells over the noise, “also, the father will apologize for the water! And the other will perform seppuku on someone else…”

There is a flash, and he is gone.

We gather up, and set the machine to go back home. We activate it, and soon we are back.

The japanese kids head back to the restaurant, my sister and I head to the farmhouse in Ripley, where our mother lives.

We are driving home with her, and we tell her what happened. She doesn’t believe us. Just then, it begins to snow, harder and harder, until it is a whiteout. Our mother says it looks like it’s going to be a terrible storm.

“No,” we say, “it’s like he said, it will look bad, but there will be no accumulation.”

Our mother doesn’t believe us, but 5 minutes later, the clouds have passed, the snow has stopped, and what little fell is already melting. The sun is shining.

She believes, not fully, but a spark. She is sad that our father has left for another time.

A few days later, my sister and I go to the japanese restaurant. We are greeted by our friends there. The eldest boy has always been somewhat rich and spoiled. We had all hoped that the time in 1984, were we had no money, would have taught him some humility, but he is back to being as brash as ever.

His father, the owner of the restaurant, comes in, and tells us to crouch down, in the yoga “child pose”. He walks around, and one by one, he cracks our backs. It feels good, and we are all relaxed.

I wonder out loud if this is what my father meant about seppuku, since we were in a similar pose when our backs were cracked. The restaurant owner asks what we are talking about. We tell him, and he shakes his head. “Such imagination, you children.”

“No,” I insist, “you will probably apologize about the water soon.”

He laughs, and we all kneel at the table, the low kind without chairs. We get our water and the food is being served, when the waitress notices residue on my glass. “Oh dear,” she says, “all the glasses seem to be dirty.”

The father apologizes about the dirty glasses of water.

“You see?” I say. He merely smiles. “A coincidence,” he says.

Suddenly there are shouts, and gunfire rings out. A yakuza gang who have been threatening the restaurant are causing trouble in the street out front.

The father begins to rise, but the eldest son waves him back. “It is my duty to take care of this,” he says, and strides toward the front. My sister and I crawl after him, so we can watch from a safe distance.

The yakuza out front have shot a woman who was passing by. The eldest son goes out and confronts their leader. “Go, now, and don’t come back,” he tells them. He stands defiantly in front of the leader. The leader recognizes him and smiles broadly. “Go home, rich boy,” he sneers.

The son again says “Leave, and don’t come back,” and points down the street.

The yakuza leader’s smile vanishes, and he pulls out an uzi. The son remains defiant, and doesn’t budge. The leader raises the gun, and sprays the son with bullets.

Bloody and dying, the son still refuses to move.

The leader draws his sword, a nasty weapon like a katana, but with a small blade at the end of the handle for close combat as well. The leader plunges his sword through the son. “Just die, and shut up,” shouts the leader.

The son slumps forward, as if to fall over. The sword is sticking out his back. The leader smiles. Then, at the last moment, the son reaches out, and with all his strength, pulls the leader close in an embrace. The blade on the handle impales the leader’s chest. The leader gasps, and blood begins to flow from him mouth. The son smiles, and they both topple to the ground.

The rest of the yakuza quickly pack up and run away.

I go back to the father, in the back of the restaurant, and tell him what his son did.

He is tearful, but very proud.

Somehow, discussion turns to how the son’s head should be cut off and preserved. I explain that lack of oxygen causes brain damage, that if he could be revived, he would be a vegetable. Some of the kids argue that freezing the head would get around this. I shake my head, but conjecture that maybe a pressurized oxygen container might work, since it would force oxygen into the brain.

As we are arguing about how to preserve the head, suddenly the eldest son walks into the restaurant. We all stare in disbelief. Behind him, we can still see his body lying dead in the street.

“But, how?” we all ask at once.

He smiles broadly. “Can’t keep a good man down,” he quips.

“I used your father’s device. I went into the future, and convinced future me to stand up to the yakuza.” He jerks his thumb over his shoulder, pointing out to the street. “That’s me from next week.”

“But,” I say, “what will happen in a week? You’ll just die then!”

“No I won’t,” he smiles, “if I show up next week and ask me to go, I’ll just turn me down. I don’t want to die, I’m not stupid.”

I try to argue about paradoxes, but he waves me off. “I’m sure the universe takes care of itself. There are probably branching timelines or something.”

I shake my head in disbelief.